December 6, 2009
Gifts that work at work: Frugal times mean new realities for office celebrations
Like many employers, Andrea Heuston had to scale back the holiday gifts she’s giving her staff this month.
“This year we’re just going with $50 restaurant gift cards,” says the CEO and creative principal of Artitudes Design Inc., a design firm in Issaquah. “It’s not a lot, but it’s something. And I’m tailoring them to each person instead of just giving them a card to Costco.”
Heuston isn’t worried that her staff of 12 will miss the pricier gifts she has given during better economic times (think iPods).
“If you set expectations early on, people understand,” says Heuston, who told her employees weeks ago that she’d be paring down holiday gifts this year and holding the company party at a bowling alley instead of the usual upscale restaurant. “People appreciate it if you’re open with them.”
Smart move, says Daniel Post Senning, a workplace-etiquette expert with the Emily Post Institute. “It’s always a great idea to spell out those details for employees,” he explains. After all, clarity and transparency are good for morale.
Office gift guide
Avoid giving your boss or co-workers personal items such as clothing, jewelry or perfume. Instead, the Emily Post Institute offers these inexpensive suggestions:
For direct reports: Books, music, movie tickets, phone applications, food baskets or gift cards.
For grab-bag gift exchanges: Coffee, homemade cookies or humorous, safe-for-work novelties.
Team gift for the boss: Charitable donations in his/her honor or tickets to a show or sporting event.
And how does the quintessential morale booster -- the annual bonus -- figure into the gift-giving equation? According to Post Senning, it doesn’t.
“That’s company business,” he says, adding that employers would do well to avoid blurring the lines between holiday gifts and year-end bonuses. Otherwise, he warns, “some bosses might feel like they gave you a holiday gift. But some workers might feel like the bonus is part of their compensation.”
Heuston agrees. “We try to make sure that bonuses are not tied to the holidays,” says the CEO, who awards bonuses based on employee performance. “That way, people don’t expect them as part of their normal pay. Instead, it’s really a bonus.”
What about giving your boss a token of your appreciation this holiday season? “It’s best if it comes from the whole office,” Post Senning says. Give the boss a gift by yourself and you risk being labeled the department suck-up, he cautions.
Getting everyone’s blessing on both the gift idea and the per-person cost is another must. “You don’t know what people’s finances are,” Post Senning says. “They may not be in the same situation they were in a year ago.”
If a co-worker can’t participate, put that person’s name on the card anyway as a courtesy, he advises.
There is a simple way to ease the pressure of swapping gifts at work: Hold a department-wide Secret Santa or white elephant gift exchange and cap spending at $5 or $10. That’s what Darin Velin’s department does each year.
“We don’t spend more than $10 and it’s supposed to be as cheap and ugly as possible,” says the Redmond resident, who works as a communications specialist at a technology company.
“You don’t have to stress out about, ‘Is he or she going to like this?’ Instead, I’m thinking: ‘What is the worst thing I can get for $10?’ It’s good holiday fun.”
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